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Google throws enterprise IT a bone with Android L

Google has finally made good on long-awaited Android enterprise features. But skepticism remains on how the tech giant will implement the changes.

Like Apple, Google has heard the call of the enterprise and added some IT management capabilities to its mobile applications this week.

Google will include an enterprise mobility container in a new platform called Android for Work as part of the upcoming Android L operating system. In Android for Work, personal and corporate applications can live on the same device by providing underlying data suppression that isolates personal and corporate data.

Developers won't need to modify existing applications and customers can buy and deploy applications in bulk, if desired.

Interestingly, Google worked with Samsung on this container approach, with Samsung lending its secure container platform work for Knox to create one consistent product across enterprises for Android.

Samsung rolled out an updated version of Knox earlier this year that included support for Apple's iOS in addition to Android, with a secure container, management of Web and mobile apps, a self-service portal, and separate work and personal profiles.

Apple is arguably about two years ahead of Android, but Android is quickly catching up.
Greg RaizCEO, RaizLabs

The new device management features will be wrapped in a separate application to work on Android versions dating back to Ice Cream Sandwich. Google is working with its original equipment manufacturer (OEM) partners to deliver Android for Work devices this fall.

In a statement, Samsung said a part of Knox would integrate into Android L, but offered no other specifics, adding that it would continue to provide Knox to its customers. A Samsung spokesperson declined to provide additional details.

It's also unclear how Google plans to integrate its recent acquisition of Divide, a mobile containerization startup, into the new platform.

Android L mobile management

Google's move follows Apple's recent enterprise acknowledgements, although IT remains skeptical of what Cupertino is offering.

Embedding the technology from Divide and Knox into a new management platform would be a smart move by Google, according to Jack Gold, mobile analyst and principal at J. Gold Associates in Northborough, Massachusetts.

"If I'm in IT, I don't want a proprietary, one-off [container like] Knox. I want something that is part of Android, so if you get HTC, and I buy Samsung, and Sue buys LG, it's all the same," Gold said.

What the move means for the future viability of Knox as a standalone product is unclear, especially since Samsung charges $3.60 per user per month for Knox, and Google has not indicated if there will be an additional cost to use Android for Work, according to Gold.

IT can also hope that Google's move to work with OEMs, as well as providing an Android for Work application for previous Android OS versions, will help ease some of the fragmentation around the different versions of Android that exist in the market today. That fragmentation can be problematic and costly for IT to deal with, according to Gold.

IT pros get other management features through Google Drive for Work, including controls over which users can install the desktop sync client, new audit tools that allow administrators to see if files are being moved, shared or deleted, and file encryption at rest and in transit.

Google's previous inability to offer management for its Android environments has been a hot topic amongst mobile industry watchers. At a recent Tech in Motion event in Boston, a panel of CEOs and CTOs discussed where Google stands with management capabilities compared to its chief rival.

"Apple is arguably about two years ahead of Android, but Android is quickly catching up," said Greg Raiz, CEO of mobile application development company RaizLabs in Boston. "I expect as each version of Android happens, they will put more and more emphasis on [mobile management]."

Google Docs gets native Office editing, storage upgrade

Google users now have more options around productivity applications, as well. A new presentation application akin to PowerPoint, called Google Slides, will join the productivity suite, and functionality will be added around editing Microsoft Office documents.

Native Office editing allows users to edit Office documents using Google applications such as Docs, Sheets and Slides, as well as the ability to save them as Office documents once complete. Users can still convert the Office documents to Google documents if desired. Google is doing this by integrating its 2012 acquisition of Quickoffice into these applications.

The devil of how the revamped Google Apps will handle Office documents remains in the details and must be sorted out, according to Bob O'Donnell, chief analyst and founder of TECHnalysis Research in Foster City, California.

"True file format compatibility is tough because Microsoft owns that file format and I'm not sure they are going to be willing to share it all," O'Donnell said.

Theoretically, Google can have success with an Office-compatible suite, but Microsoft is also readying a release of Office apps for Android devices similar to its Office for iPad release from earlier this year, which could overshadow the additions by Google, according to O'Donnell.

Google Drive for Work will also offer unlimited storage for $10 per user per month. Google remains in a fierce battle for file sync and share and cloud storage supremacy with the likes of Dropbox, Box, Microsoft OneDrive and many others.

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